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“We put a man on the moon over fifty years ago, so why can’t we make foul weather gear that doesn’t leak?”
Bored of sitting in your own private puddle on the windward rail? Or catching a wave down the back of your neck? Us too.
We thought it was time we did something about it. So, we’ve decided to create our own foul weather gear.
We don’t take this challenge on lightly. We want it to work as advertised – foul weather gear is gear for foul weather, gear that keeps the foul weather out.
We thought that now was the right time to tackle this challenge. We started by ensuring we had an industry leader to spearhead the project. We hired Nigel Musto – you probably recognise the name.
Nigel understands the blend of technology, art and craft – along with the intricate design detail – that makes for great foulies, and he was as frustrated as the sailors at the recent lack of progress. He knew that in other extreme sports there had been more innovation in design and technology. There were lessons to be explored from these sports in fabrics, design and detailing.
The next step was getting GORE-TEX® onboard. This was mission critical, as it’s been proven as the only waterproof, breathable material tough enough for a sailboat.
With GORE-TEX® secured we went out to the sailing community, both those within North Sails and those at the very top of the sport; the ranks of America’s Cup, Ocean Race, Vendee Globe and Olympic sailors.
There was no shortage of feedback, ideas or information… the hard part was to distil it down to the fundamentals that needed to change, and how best to change them. It wasn’t easy, but now we’re ready to share what we’ve developed.
This is foul weather gear for sailors, by sailors – the best you’ll find. Period.
It wouldn’t have our name on it if it wasn’t.
Research, innovate, design, build, test….rinse and repeat. Learn how we’ve followed Lowell North’s scientific method to make sure the new North Sails foul weather kit upholds North Sails build quality.
Our design work doesn’t end when the first prototypes ship out of the factory. This is just the beginning. Every North Sails product is the result of the same extensive process; research, innovate, design, build, test… rinse and repeat. Over, and over, and over again. Our foul weather gear has already been tested to destruction.
The Offshore and Inshore gear has been dispatched to the racetracks of the world in the hands of North’s experts and sail designers – a team of the most experienced sailors in the world, who cover hundreds of sea miles aboard many different types of vessels…you couldn’t dream up a better kit testing team.
Kévin Escoffier, Vendée Globe 2020 competitor, also joined our testing team. One of the most experienced and successful ocean racing sailors of his generation, Escoffier has emerged from a backroom role running Team Banque Populaire’s design office to win a Jules Verne Trophy and the last Volvo Ocean Race.
Kévin Escoffier did a lot of sea miles before he crossed the Vendée Globe 2020 start line as skipper of PRB on November 8 2020 – and he did them all in our kit. He achieved a second-place finish in the IMOCA class of the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Transat Jacques Vabre. It’s been the perfect testing environment for the Ocean range and Kévin’s thoughtful, analytical feedback was essential to the refinement of the final designs. Kévin decided that the kit was so good that he took it to race in and, whilst his Vendée 2020 journey hasn’t ended as any of us would have wished, we’ve enjoyed a fruitful debrief - design, build, test…..rinse and repeat.
The Offshore prototypes also went south to Sydney for the start of one of the world’s classic races, Rolex Sydney Hobart. In 2019 North Sails designer and trimmer Dick Parker was wearing our kit when he secured his first Hobart win. He had plenty of praise for the kit and lots more ideas – as did everyone else.
"I had a little trouble with my boat ” – North Sails Performance checked in with Kévin Escoffier, Team PRB Skipper during his adventures in the Vendée Globe 2019-20
Kévin Escoffier, Skipper Team PRB, was in fifth position in the Vendée Globe 2019-20 – just entering the Southern Ocean - when his boat simply broke in two and sunk almost immediately. Showing phenomenal seamanship Kévin managed to send a mayday to his team and take to his life raft. The Vendée Globe organization sprung into swift action to save him. Four of Kévin’s competitors selflessly broke off their race to support the rescue. After 11 hours in the life raft Kévin climbed onboard Yes We Cam! with five time race veteran Jean Le Cam – a phenomenal feat.
After 5 days Kévin left Yes We Cam! onboard a French Naval vessel to commence his return to France.
Remarkably, with all this happening, Kévin took the time onboard Yes We Cam! to give an insight into why he chose to work with the North Sails Performance team and his thoughts on the range.
Dick Parker, North Sails sail designer and trimmer, wore prototypes of the new North Sails Performance kit whist winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2019. Discover what he thought about it.
During product development our new offshore and inshore apparel was dispatched to the racetracks of the world in the hands of North’s experts. Prototypes of the Offshore Smock and Trousers went to North Sails’ sail designer and trimmer, Dick Parker, who wore them whilst winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2019.
Dick grew up in Hobart and first joined North Sails Sydney in 1987, working there for 10 years until European sailing adventures called. In 2001 he joined the OneWorld America’s Cup Challenge, before working for Emirates Team New Zealand from 2005-07. He rejoined North Sails in 2007, based out of the UK initially, returning back to the North Sails Sydney team in 2018.
While we couldn’t send Dick out to test the latest kit in this year’s race, we caught up with him on how the kit fared during his winning run last year – and what he did to ensure our kit was tested to North Sails exacting standards.
1.When we sent you the protype of our new offshore kit (Offshore Smock and Trousers) what were your first impressions?
The prototype kit I was sent was only the first iteration of the new stuff, I was initially skeptical as it was early days in the development cycle. It was good looking kit. The first thing I noticed was the 4DL patching on the trousers – I thought it was pretty nice, the seat of the pants was very different to what I’d seen before. The smock had neoprene seals which I actually liked.
However, when I picked it up it felt really light compared to my existing kit, I thought “Hmmm, not sure about this” and I was concerned if it was substantial enough.
2.Have you been able to give the kit a proper test?
I did the warm up races for the 2019 Hobart in the gear, the Sydney Hobart itself, the warm up for this year’s race – which includes a couple of offshore races - and I was planning to do this year’s Sydney Hobart in the same trousers. They’ve had a pretty decent outing so far, and they still look new - so they’ve held up 100%. I reckon they’ll be good for 5-6 years of that level of racing.
It wasn’t full on conditions for the 2019 race, but I think it was about 80% the way there in terms of water exposure. I do the jib trim so I skid around on the non-slip a lot – which is a pretty decent test for how the kit holds up to abrasion, so my initial concerns were soon put to rest.
3.How did the kit perform as you tested it?
Last year was my fourth Sydney Hobart race and it was the first one that I was dry the whole way round on – that’s pretty significant.
The huge difference with this kit, for me, is breathability. I’m racing in Australian waters, it’s a warmer climate than most racing in the UK or US, which means I get pretty sweaty on maneuvers and often end up wetter on the inside of kit than the outside. That didn’t happen with these – I was seriously impressed.
4.Has a piece of kit has become your favorite?
From being concerned that the trousers were too light on first impressions they’ve become my go to – they’re what I wear all the time on the water now.
The 4DL patches are the significant difference, as they’re bonded on it makes them feel heavier duty rather than when the patches are sewn on. The bonding seems to give a robustness. Also, they don’t suck up water. I didn’t notice any difference the in weight of the kit between when dry or wet. That is a massive improvement on some of the other gear I’ve worn.
The lightness of the trousers is a real advantage in terms of flexibility – there isn’t a thick, constraining fabric to move about in. I’m very active on the boat and I liked this a lot.
I’m looking forward to a busy race season next year in them…..hopefully!
5.How many times had you competed in the Sydney Hobart and what did it feel like to win it?
Last year was the fourth time I’ve raced in the Sydney Hobart. Obviously, we won on handicap so you have that nervous wait for the other finishers before the overall winner is announced. I do remember coming up to the finish line and everyone on the boat felt that it was pretty unlikely that the next guy was going to take it from us – there were a lot of large smiles breaking out across the boat. When our win was confirmed the navigator got chucked off the boat in celebration and the owner broke out the champagne.
Winning was awesome, it was a far bigger deal than I thought it was going to be. It was a fabulous time and, if I remember correctly, there were four days of presentations all with separate ceremonies. It was awesome, really good. My family were really excited. It felt great.
6.Who were your favorites for this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart race?
I’d have put my money on Black Jack (supermaxi Black Jack 100 started life as Alfa Romeo in 2005) for Line Honors. Then I believe it would have been bow to bow with us (Ichi Ban - TP 52), and Gweilo (TP 52). Gweilo were sailing really well – we had our eyes on them, they stepped it up from last year and had beaten us over the two warm up races – it was definitely “Game On” for this year. I only hope we will all be back competing in 2021.
Planet Ocean is under threat. As an innovation and technology company; this is where we can and must show leadership. Our Performance clothing line, honestly, addresses minimizing its environmental impact.
Planet Ocean is under threat. Runway global warming. Acidification. Coral bleaching. Unstoppable tides of plastic washing onto beaches, swirling in gyres and growing by eight million tonnes a year. The numbers are terrifying and intimidating. It seems hopeless, but change will only come one small step at a time. Alone we can do nothing. Together we have a chance.
North Sails have supported the Ocean Family Foundation for many years now; with up to one percent of turnover going to fund programmes that will support marine life and ocean health, to assist with research, education and plastic reduction. We are an innovation and technology company; this is where we can and must show leadership.
In a first for sailing, we have specifically designed products to be recycled at the end of their life. It’s the first time that closed loop design has been achieved in our sport. All our polyester clothing can now be returned at the end of life and will be recycled into yarn for the manufacture of new fabrics.
It’s just one of many initiatives from North Sails. In 2021, packaging will only use recycled plastic, while we continue to work on completely plastic-free solutions for 2022. The GORE-TEX fabrics we use are bluesign® approved.
Unfortunately, even with all this good work and good news, we have to be honest about some aspects of our clothing. The PTFE from which GORE-TEX is made is not recyclable, in fact it’s one of the most stable products known to science. This is also one of the key reasons it’s so good as foul weather gear and why it performs better than anything else out there!
However, there are also some elements of its manufacture that are unfriendly to the environment. We are addressing some of these issues with new Durable Water Repellent (DWR) solutions. DWR does what it says on the tin, it makes the water ‘bead’ off the fabric, rather than being absorbed – a process called wetting out.
The most effective DWR coating has for many years been a perflurocarbon (PFC) called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. Unfortunately, these coatings eventually wear or wash off – it’s one of the reasons why older or well-worn foul weather gear is less good at keeping you warm and dry.
Worse, the PFOA coating is also toxic and once it’s in the environment it doesn’t degrade for a very, very long time. This leads to a toxic build-up in animals, fish and humans. So, the EU has banned PFOA from July 2020; a ban that’s soon likely to extend to other countries and other PFCs that are still used as DWR coatings.
Our new fabrics take a different approach, with a construction that uses much thinner threads and much tighter weaves – making the fabric more naturally water repellent, giving them a quality that’s part of the fabric, that won’t wash off. So that’s a win for humans, fish, animals and the oceans.
We also strive to make the very best quality garments that we can. This is not single-use or fast fashion; these are clothes that will last. Our hope is that every set of North Sails Performance foul weather gear will give great service for a decade or more.
We know you’ll love your North foulies and separation will be heart breaking. When you finally have to say goodbye, it’ll only be because you have to...